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An anthropomorphic cat.

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics to non-human creatures and beings, phenomena, material states and objects or abstract concepts. Examples include animals and plants and forces of nature such as winds, rain or the sun depicted as creatures with human motivation able to reason and converse. The term derives from the combination of the Greek ( ), "human" and ( ), "shape" or "form".

It is strongly associated with art and storytelling where it has ancient roots. Most cultures possess a long-standing fable tradition with anthropomorphised animals as characters that can stand as commonly recognised types of human behaviour.

Anthropomorphic animals are often used as mascots for sports teams or sporting events, often represented by humans in costumes.

In religions and mythologies

In religion and mythology, anthropomorphism refers to the perception of a divine being or beings in human form, or the recognition of human qualities in these beings. Many mythologies are concerned with anthropomorphic deities who express human characteristics such as jealousy, hatred, or love. The Greek gods, such as Zeus and Apollo, were often depicted in human form exhibiting human traits. Anthropomorphism in this case is referred to as anthropotheism.

Numerous sects throughout history have been called anthropomorphites attributing such things as hands and eyes to God, including a sect in Egyptmarker in the 4th century, and an heretical, 10th-century sect, who literally interpreted Book of Genesis chapter 1, verse 27: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."

From the perspective of adherents of religions in which humans were created in the form of the divine, the phenomenon may be considered theomorphism, or the giving of divine qualities to humans.


The Greek philosopher Xenophanes (570–480 BC) said that "the greatest god" resembles man "neither in form nor in mind." Anthropomorphism of God is rejected by Judaism and Islam, which both believe that God is beyond human limits of physical comprehension. Judaism's rejection grew after the advent of Christianity until becoming codified in 13 principles of Jewish faith authored by Maimonides in the 12th Century.

In his book Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion, Stewart Elliott Guthrie theorizes that all religions are anthropomorphisms that originate due to the brain's tendency to detect the presence or vestiges of other humans in natural phenomena.

In literature

Anthropomorphism is a well established literary device from early times. Aesop's Fables, a collection of short tales written by the ancient Greek citizen Aesop, make extensive use of anthropomorphism, in which animals and weather are used to illustrate simple moral lessons. The books Panchatantra (The Five Principles) and The Jataka Tales employ anthropomorphised animals to illustrate various principles of life.

In Popular Culture

Anthropomorphism plays a role in some popular films and TV shows. The Griffin family of FOX's hit comedy Family Guy has an anthropomorphic dog named Brian, and the spin-off of Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, has a family of anthropomorphic bears. From the popular Britishmarker animated short films Wallace and Gromit comes Gromit, the beloved dog of Wallace. Almost all characters from Nickelodeon's hit show SpongeBob SquarePants are anthropomorphic in nature, with the exception of the characters Patchy the Pirate, Mermaidman and Barnacleboy, and the Flying Dutchman. Additionally, many of the films made by Pixar Animation Studios center around anthropomorphisms, including cars, fish, aliens, monsters, dogs and many others.

See also


  1. Anthropomorphite.
  2. Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies V xiv 109.1–3

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